ASSOCIATES (2006, November, v. 13, no. 2) - associates.ucr.edu
Frank Exner, Little Bear
North Carolina Central University
School of Library and Information Sciences
This will be an unusual Bear Thoughts column. It tries to fit in with the special issue theme of “Investing in Your Future,” so it focuses on you and your life while still (I hope) offering my vision of libraries and the people who make them work (you!).
THE CENTRALITY OF LIBRARIES
For years I have propounded the idea that libraries are the central institutions of American Society. No profession can function without libraries: doctors require medical libraries, lawyers and judges require law libraries, scholars can’t function without academic libraries (no matter how much they think they can), primary and secondary schools can’t function without school libraries or media centers (no matter how much THEY think they can), and an informed public requires public libraries. Even Indian Chiefs need tribal libraries.
What does this have to do with your future and investing in it? Everything. Whatever you do in life will involve one or more libraries. And you already know how they work; isn’t that cool? (Of course it is. Otherwise I wouldn’t bring it up here.) If every profession requires the use of libraries and you are already an expert in library use, your value to any employer is that much greater.
CHARACTERISTICS OF LIBRARY STAFF
You are well-read with a broad knowledge of the world. Otherwise you would not be a successful library staff member. You can communicate well (I know this for the same reason) and the unexpected does not distress you (after all, you never know in the morning what bizarre request might come your way in the afternoon). In other words, you have the right mental and emotional stuff to live a full life.
You’re curious and resourceful; you’re practiced at making do with too little; you can keep control of your anger; you can help a patron sharpen a vague need into an answerable question; and you can lead an impatient youngster (did I hear the word moron in the distance) to a new plane of knowledge. You are very cool!!!
YOUR POSSIBLE PATHS
I see three basic routes for your consideration (not to mention your future). First, you could continue in your current position (and its associated career path). Second, you could become a librarian (with that associated career path). Third, you could move away from libraries, but even that (and ITS possible associated career path) benefits from your time in libraries.
After careful consideration (the most fundamental investment in your future) you may decide to stay in your current position and accept its career path. After all you’ve spent years working in libraries and you’re good at it. Maybe it provides time you need for family or other activities. And maybe you are tired of formal learning.
That’s fine. Families and non-work activities may be central to your life, and the life you desire should be the focus of your decision. Go for it!
Or you may decide to become a librarian. You already know most everything about this option. You’ve met librarians and worked with them. You’ve been managed by them. And you have already come to a conclusion – good or bad. You know whether you might want to manage others or whether you wouldn’t do that job if they paid you. (They do pay managers, you know. Not the big bucks but something that resembles money.)
You know if you love reference or technical services (or AV or journals). And you know if you would be willing to put in the time and effort to get an MLS. The opportunity is there (we’ll talk more about it in a few paragraphs), and you can take advantage if you want to. Age is not a barrier; I did it when I was 48 years old.
Finally, you may decide, after thought, to move away from libraries. There are an infinite number of creative, challenging, remunerative paths that intersect with libraries and, therefore, are available to you (not infinite, maybe, but a lot of paths). With your knowledge of libraries you can bring efficient, effective information organization and discovery to new groups of people, serving those who would never go near a library. If this is what you want, go for it.
THE INVESTMENT OF EDUCATION
Education is an investment that always pays off (yeah right). OK, so that’s nonsense in this period of American (and I suspect Canadian) life. (Just ask any parent who has had a child trying to enter the workforce with a good job lately.) But education is a good investment and often offers the first steps on a somewhat defined path. And a lot of us work in academic libraries which means we’re physically close to colleges or universities. The rest of you probably live near a college or university as there are thousands of them throughout North America. And if by some chance you are far from a college or university with the program you need, distance education has become available to all.
So let us look at the three potential paths described above and examine how further education might be valuable. If you are going to continue in your current position, you already know what you have to do. But have to do is a minimum; maybe you want to get additional schooling in your reference or cataloging area. Or maybe you want to get additional schooling in your real vocation (whether that is a hobby or a craft or volunteer work). Think about getting more formal or informal education in your vocation. Or just practice. We all need more practice.
If you decide to become a librarian, education is a necessity. You’ll need an ALA-accredited MLS (or MALS or MLIS or whatever your school calls it). Since there are only around fifty such institutions you may not have one nearby, but distance education is a wonderful thing. Many ALA-accredited schools have distance education programs; some require residence others don’t. Schools as large and prestigious as the urban- oriented University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or as personal as the rural-oriented Clarion University offer fully accredited MLS degrees via the World Wide Web.
In other words study the possibilities carefully. Think about your interests, where you want to work, what kinds of patrons you want to serve, and any special interests. For example if you have an interest in serving minority and other underserved populations, you might consider North Carolina Central University School of Library and Information Sciences (the only ALA-accredited program based in a Historically Black College or University). Whatever your needs you’ll probably find a school that will meet it.
If, finally, you decide to move away from libraries examine the training or education needs and opportunities available. If the path you have decided on is right for you, thoughts of school should excite you. (They’ll probably scare you too, but that is all right.) Remember, only you can know what the right move (or lack of move) is right for you. And no decision is truly wrong.
A few weeks ago, when the editor mentioned the nature of this special issue, I thought that I would write my usual, rather theoretical, column. But then my wife said that I should write the things I was always telling her. Since she is a lot smarter than I am, I decided to try. I hope that these thoughts have been of interest, or at least are worth what you paid for them.
I wish you the best life possible. The world, in or out of libraries, can be a joy filled place. And, as I say in my email signature line, “A person who lives with joy has much to teach.”